This is all rather early in my exploration of an interesting storytelling site called Stepworks (which Alan Levine tweeted out about and which I then followed and became intrigued). I spent some time diving into it yesterday (and got some help from the kind developer of the site via email), and during the day, I made a little something for the Networked Narratives course.
Erik Loyer, the site developer, did put together a video tutorial that is worth watching and using as a learning tool. He walks the viewer through each step. I watched it carefully. It was very helpful.
But I figured I would learn and remember better if I made a tutorial of my own for others in NetNarr to follow, if they wanted. It might help anyone who wanted to make their own (and maybe, collaborate later on together? Anyone?). Diving into something new for storytelling … that’s NetNarr, right?
My own next step is to remix some of Erik’s scripts for sounds and see if I can’t add the audio element to my story/poem. Erik says a video is coming down the road about how to do that, but he suggested I look at some of existing files and see what I could do on my own. He’s got that NetNarr spirit!
Here, then, are the steps, which I followed after watching Erik (and emailing for some help):
Be sure to share your story with us! Use the #NetNarr hashtag on Twitter.
I was reading through the suggested activities for last week’s Networked Narratives course, and came across Alan Levine’s suggestion for doing a “Four Icon Story” that uses icons to tell a story with no words. I’ve done those before on Twitter via DS106. The visual aspect of writing (and trying to guess another’s four icon story) is interesting.
One note: While Eric suggests that “control R” randomizes the emojis in the spreadsheet, my Mac wanted to do “command R” to get the randomizer working. So, you may need to tinker a bit.
I didn’t add any new emojis to Eric’s database, but it is certainly possible to do. Instead, I hit the “randomizer” button (Command R) and got my list of five emoji inspiration. How lucky is it that a saxophone was in the mix? Pretty cool!
And then, I wrote a story.
It was one of those blustery nights, the kind of night where every living thing in the jungle or the plains fell silent and tried to sleep, hoping for the sun in the morning. The Lion was hungry but not motivated to hunt. He knew there would be little out here, with the Wind blowing from the East. Hunting would likely be more trouble than it would be worth. Huddled in the leeward side of his rock, Lion pulled out his cell phone, and checked for service. Even with the Google Wireless Balloons in the air and Facebook towers dotting the plains, Internet service was spotty in these far reaches of the world. Lion imagined the Winds buffeting the Balloons, knocking over towers. Sure enough, there was no cell phone service on this night. Lion sighed. Hungry and disconnected from the world. He closed his eyes and sought out sleep. As he drifted off into dreams, he caught the faint sounds of music, as if someone were riffing off the melody of the Wind. The jazz floated above the plains, flatted fifths and augmented sevenths. Lion opened his eyes. Perhaps he might go hunting tonight, after all. The musician played on, unaware of the power of his song.
I was happy this week when a handful of folks in the Networked Narratives course took up my invitation to join me in writing a Folded Story. The idea is that you only see the fold above you as you write and then you pass it off to someone else (sort of like an Exquisite Corpse story).
The result, after 25 folds and about 10 different writers, is very strange, and I would argue it is an example of a networked narrative — a collaborative story written and told across time and space, with technology as the platform for telling the story. (The word cloud above is built with the words from the folded story).
Take a listen to the story. I narrated the whole thing, reading from start to finish all of our folds. I added a little music beneath it, just to keep the five minutes of story moving along. It was strange to read in one sitting, from start to finish.
So there you are, holding the thread and wondering whether to pull or not. The thread leads to something beyond your eyes. You stare at the thread. And then you pull. You feel it tug back three times and then a warm hum springs from the thread as it begins to sing. The words are faint at first, like the far away tinkling of cheap wind chimes, but the it becomes clear, ” This is not the beginning of the story. This is merely an obscure edge of the tale.” The wind chimes continue to shimmer. Out of the music, something appears. Paper, with burned edges and forgotten words. You read it aloud and the language is runic and foreign, full of sigils and elementals, EarthAirFireWater. The sounds at first are glossolalia, speaking in tongues. Meaning transmutes from lead to gold and a measure of understanding rises, “So say we thus: Within these words, within this fire, within this alchemic mixture, we discover the truth of the hermetic motto “As above, so below.” Turtles all the way down never swimming in the same time stream twice. Nothing to be had but to start pulling on the thread and following it into the labyrinth. It felt like you were tugging against something. So you pulled harder, knowing that the tail of the tale was still in play, even if it remained invisible beyond the sight line. One final tug of the thread and the world around you unravels. You watch as plants are replaced with twine, earth with yarn, and people with string; yet they all seem to maintain their form. The people notice you are not from their stringy world. They walk over to you and Touch your slender form. Your straight back and gentle hook is perfect for this stringy world which often becomes a net, a filter, a sort of flexible valve of ideas. You grip whatever you can hold on, searching for substance. There. You sense how this one story might spring forth others. You twist it counter-clockwise, surprised by I was surprised by a single CLICK! What?? This is a triple barrel lock, how could I not crack the code? All those lessons in safe cracking, gone to waste. All those hours studying codes, deciphering, hacking, tracking. But wait, I heard something… It was a tiny metal on metal sound–I recognized it right away–deep in the tumblers a nano cricket from the lab was worrying apart the intricate mechanism. Someone had planted the nano bug Its tiny clanging told me it was dangerously close to interfering with the network’s mainframe. One nick could shut down all central processing. Reserve power won’t be enough to sustain our work here. The bug has to be found and extracted. Fast. The bug started to burrow, deeper and deeper. It’s main food was bits and bytes, tasty morsels not found on the surface. It devoured the 1’s and 0’s trying to pass its fat body. Lost words for the child’s bedtime story. It feasted on and on until it disgorged what seemed to be a book, a bound contraption of words and magic. Its binding was wire mesh, nearly collapsible. You yank at the dangling thread. The whole thing expands into place. You stare and wonder at the title: An Alchemist’s Manifesto. Your mind races. Within seconds you are compelled to consume the words revealed to you. Page by page is devoured by your soul until you are, at last, filled with the knowledge of a thousand years. When the last word from the last page is written, then you will know. Until then, you must find new ways to intuit your inner life, making it connect with the randomness and fragmentary experience of this so called world. For what is the network effect, but a schizophrenia born of distraction. You know truth of course, you just need to pull the telescope from your pocket, reverse-engineer it into a microscope, and then find the focus. You know that. Find focus. You fiddle with the ****, turn the crank and another world arrives. Something is moving on the surface. Something quite extraordinary. Not one thing, but a multitude of beings, moving in coordinated fashion. They seem to be communicating with you, and somehow you are understanding their message of hums and whirs. Minute sounds that somehow converge into meaning. These creatures have something to tell me. Something important. Their meaning is fuzzy though. I get glimpses of an idea. Nothing totally clear. But, I think they’re trying to say truth exists though it can be hard to see. Though it may just be a tiny bit or a little it. Thing is you can view from so many different perspectives. Up top or down below. From the right or left with the light casting shadows just so. You never know but you have to go in, you have to answer their questions. You’re going to get up there on the witness stand and tell the truth as you know it. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth about what they did on the 4th of July. And if you don’t know the “they,” then you don’t know the truth. But you know there is time. There’s always time for the story to unfold or take a new turn, even a new beginning — like when you come into an improv performance and have to re-imagine what you missed. Every of us has our own beginning, and then we cross paths. Or not.
Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.
Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.
Hey #NetNarr – What’s So Funny about Peace Love and Remix?
The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).
First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).
Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.
Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.
And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.
Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),
So, I am on another meander .. trying to parse out the possibilities of Twitter Bots as a means of digital writing. And wondering, is it? I don’t rightly know. Thus, the meander.
I’m on this line of inquiry thanks to the Networked Narratives crew, and one of the paths revealed during the recent “studio tour” with Leonardo Flores, whose work with generative Twitter Bots sparked some interesting annotation discussions.
Certainly, Twitter Bots — which are programmed to release writing or images or something from a data base at random or programmed times — are numerous (as I found when I started looking for them with new eyes) and funny and entertaining. Some bots mesh together ideas from other sites, creating a hybrid tweet. Others are original material, parsed together in odd ways. Some bots take on personalities from history, using archived texts as source material. Others are like programmed memes, making political fun of something through satire and sarcasm. Some are stories, unfolding in small bits over time.
Right now, I am following Mia Zamora and Alan Levine’s suggestion at Networked Narratives to “follow some bots” and see what happens over a few days time. I created a Twitter List of various bots that I have found (and feel free to follow the list if you want or you can ask Flores’ HotBots Bot to recommend Bots to follow based on your question or theme), and find myself dipping into the narrative stream now and then. It’s not a great strategy because the bot tweets are all mixed up, like a book whose pages have been put into disorder.
What I am wondering about in the larger picture, though, is this: can I make and launch my own Twitter Bot?
Yesterday, I started working on a Twitter Bot to send into the NetNarr twitter stream and I think I can pull it off, but I have been struggling with what would I want that bot to say to the world? What database might it mine for words and ideas? What message? Is my act of making a bot share writing out to the world an act writing?
More to come …. tomorrow, I will write about my bot experiment.
Now in our 12th year of collecting newly invented words (ranging alphabetically from Aamic to Zzaj) from sixth graders, our Crazy Collaborative Dictionary is pushing nearly 1,000 invented words. The invention of language is part of our lessons around the origins of words, and the roots of the English Language, and we have a blast with this word-invention activity.
But what amazes me is that this year’s class of word inventors weren’t even born when the first class of word inventors began making up words in 2005. Actually, we didn’t use a wiki until 2006, I think, but we used to publish the words as an in-house dictionary document. We started with an old wiki site called Seedwiki, and then moved to Wikispaces when Seedwiki kicked the bucket.
Once I had the first version of the wiki dictionary up, we shifted to the online dictionary concept (as well as lessons about this thing called the Internet and what in the world Wikis were). I’ve had them submit words all sorts of ways. This year, we set up a Google Form to collect words into a database.
A few years ago, we added podcasting to the activity, giving students a chance to record their word and definition. As I now pitch it to them, their voice will be forever (well, we’ll see about that, right? Forever is a long time in Internetland) linked to their word, in this moment in time. Five years, or ten years, from now, they should be able to “listen” to their sixth grade self, reading out their word and definition at the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary. (I am still connecting podcasts to this year’s collection of words)
I think that idea is pretty nifty, as is the concept that many of my students are now “collaborating” with older siblings, some of whom have graduated and are in college, or in jobs. But their words are there, in our dictionary, as are their siblings’ new words. As a father of three kids, I find that idea of cross-year collaboration pretty magical indeed.
Google’s shift into transforming video stories with 360 degree perspectives dovetails nicely with the push into virtual reality storytelling, and some of the talk scattered around Networked Narratives (and more likely to come). This release — Pearl — tells the heart-warming story of a father and daughter, all set inside and near a car, and the viewer can move around the setting of this car as time passes on.
What I find fascinating is how this kind of video/story experiment begins to push the agency of the storytelling to the viewer, who can move around the “car” here, or just keep the eyes focused outside the windows. The story unfolds, but where the lens is looking all depends on us. I think that is intriguing.
Watch Pearl (I am embedded it here but I think you might need to go to the video on YouTube). I see they have other stories now published, too. I like Pearl, though, for its emotional connection (see? Story overrides tech, even as tech complements story)
And watch the Behind the Scenes video of the Making of Pearl.
Part of the “assignment” this week for the Networked Narratives course is to document the four Elements, as part of a larger discussion about Digital Alchemy. As usual, I decided that the idea of eight images of the elements (four literal, four interpreted) wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I did wonder if I could write four short poems, based on the elements of earth, wind, fire and water.
Using the app Legend, which animates text against a visual background, I got down to work, trying to hint at the elements but trying to write about something larger. I hoped the visual would connect to the element, as well as some key phrases. The constraints were length: Legend only allows a short amount of text, and the resulting animation is only six seconds.
But I was happy with each of the poems, which I think mostly captured what I was trying to accomplish in terms of the elements as inspiration for writing.
I posted each short poem on Twitter, via the #Netnarr hashtag, but then realized I really wanted them to be stitched together, so that all four poems of four elements became one digital composition. I turned to Animoto as the easiest way (I could have done it in iMovie) but also because I knew they had “elements” themes. The “air” theme seemed right, particularly when I found the “rain” song to go with it.
Networked Narratives is a hybrid course – part of a Keane University offering AND an open invitation to anyone. Come join the fun, with Mia Zamora and Alan Levine leading the way.
There’s a term kicking around the new Networked Narratives course that I keep referring to and which I am curious to get to in the coming weeks: Civic Imagination. Mia Zamora hints at this a bit with her posts over at DML about the Networked Narratives course that is a hybrid between a university class and an open course (with Alan Levine), with the theme of digital storytelling.
Mia’s terminology was on my mind yesterday as I listened to a keynote presentation by Jacqueline Vickery, a professor and researcher out of Texas, during a local technology conference that I attended. Vickery’s focus in her talk was about engaging students as citizens in the Digital Age, and how adults often thwart those moves by teenagers to engage with the world through fear and intimidation. Vickery’s talk reminded me of the deep work by danah boyd, too, and how we need to pay attention to the “stories” of our young people, and help them find ways to positively engage with the world through social media and other technology/communication avenues.
“This narrative (of young people not in control and falling prey to the dangers lurking everywhere) … ignores what they are doing with technology,” Vickery said. “We often hear young people’s technology use pathologized .. (ie, web junkies, addiction, etc.) … as if they have no sense of agency of what they are doing, as if they are just passive users of technology.”
Vickery laid out some tenets of helping young people see themselves as Citizens of the Digital Age (see image above), where social interaction across the technology is a vital component for participatory media and connections, for the betterment of the world.
She asked, rather rhetorically, if schools were doing enough to teach students about use of technology, from the standpoint of:
Probably not, in my estimation.
And this brings me back around to Mia’s reference to the term of Civic Imagination, and it has me wondering how we help students envision a better world ahead of them, and then how to turn that imaginative yearning into reality through awareness, information, agency and engagement with the world. This is the whole underlying premise of Connected Learning, by the way.
Vickery didn’t dispute that there are places where young people need help and oversight from adults to navigate the tricky waters of technology, but overall, she remains positive about the choices and the actions of young people.
“There are many ways to connect students with digital media, to see themselves as agents of change and active citizens,” she said, near the end of her talk. “If we view young people as agents of change, then we as adults can help them.”
I am pitching this idea on Interactive Fiction Writing at the Technology in Education Conference in Western Massachusetts as part of the “unconference” part of the, eh, conference today. So, if my ideas gets accepted, you are probably here. If not accepted, you are still here. Welcome. Now, how about making a playable story?